Economic snapshot | Wages Incomes and Wealth

Low-wage Workers Are Older Than You Think: 88 Percent of Workers Who Would Benefit From a Higher Minimum Wage Are Older Than 20, One Third Are Over 40

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It is a common myth that very low-wage workers—workers who would see a raise if the minimum wage were increased—are mostly teenagers. The reality is that raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would primarily benefit older workers. 88 percent of workers who would be affected by raising the minimum wage are at least 20 years old, and a third of them are at least 40 years old.


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When describing who would see a raise if the minimum wage were increased, it is important to look at everyone who earns between the current minimum wage and the proposed new one, as well as workers earning just above the new minimum wage (who would likely also see a small pay increase as employers move to preserve internal wage ladders). The typical worker who would be affected by an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 looks nothing like the part-time, teen stereotype: She is in her early thirties, works full-time, and may have a family to support. Our analysis of workers who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage shows:

  • The average age of affected workers is 35 years old;
  • 88 percent of all affected workers are at least 20 years old;
  • 35.5 percent are at least 40 years old;
  • 56 percent are women;
  • 28 percent have children;
  • 55 percent work full-time (35 hours per week or more);
  • 44 percent have at least some college experience.

Claims that mostly teenagers would see a raise if the minimum wage were increased are sometimes based erroneously upon the official Bureau of Labor Statistics data on workers who are earning the federal minimum wage or below—i.e. workers earning exactly $7.25 per hour or less. These data do not provide an accurate picture of who would see a raise if the minimum wage were increased because they exclude all workers from the 19 states with higher state minimum wages, along with all workers making slightly above the current federal minimum wage but below the proposed minimum, all of whom would see a raise if the minimum wage were increased. Also, see a comprehensive analysis of the impact of raising the minimum wage in Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would give working families, and the overall economy, a much-needed boost.

See more work by David Cooper and Dan Essrow